Building Customer Portals

Written By: Matt Bitzegaio

from July 9, 2013

One area of Microsoft Dynamics CRM that has seen an increase in popularity over the last year is the Service module. Part of that increase in adoption can be attributed to the availability of portal solutions for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the ability to increase the value proposition of the Service module by using those portals.

Out of the box, the Service module provides entities for tracking Cases and Contracts, along with a basic Service Calendar for scheduling Resources and Service Activities. Many service-oriented companies find some value in these tools in their basic form, but that value increases dramatically when coupled with a customer-centric web portal. A web portal can function as a self-service solution that allows customers to perform actions such as create and manage cases, view and pay invoices, or register for events or training.

This self-service portal is effective in two ways – it puts power in the end-user’s hands to interact as needed with their service provider or vendor, and it drives efficiency on the part of the vendor by allowing the end-users the ability to do their own data entry. Once the data is entered through the portal into Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it is no different than any data that enters Microsoft Dynamics CRM through traditional data entry by CRM users. This means it can be used to trigger workflows and plugins, or for reporting purposes.

When utilizing case management via a customer portal, cases entered through the portal can be routed to the appropriate support or customer service teams utilizing queues in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This can allow the team to view and delegate the cases once entered, and communicate with the customer via the portal as they work to complete the case.

Marketing is another area where a customer portal can drive significant value. Utilizing a portal solution, companies can give their customers access to marketing list management, social networking, and online access to past marketing content.

While customer portals can certainly increase the value proposition of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution, they can be challenging to implement from a technical standpoint. While there are several third-party solutions in the marketplace today, they all suffer from several drawbacks. The current solutions in the market are all difficult to setup and deploy, require specific server and web-hosting infrastructure, are often not integrated with current websites, and are very difficult to customize or add capabilities to. Also, many create large amounts of custom entities in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM implementation (some over 100 custom entities), creating a very cluttered and bloated feel to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system.

Based on these challenges, Summit Group Software developed an externally accessible REST endpoint for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This endpoint allows for interfacing with Microsoft Dynamics CRM from websites and mobile devices through any web programming language, including JavaScript. This also allows for customer portals to be created on any web platform, not only ASP.NET – a limitation of the third-party solutions mentioned above. By supporting any platform, portals built on the Summit Group Software endpoint can be completely housed within existing customer websites, thus negating the need to have a separate hosting infrastructure dedicated to a customer portal – this lowers both up-front and ongoing costs.

There are many customer portal modules already built using this endpoint, such as case management, marketing list management, invoice management, and event management. These modules are built using strictly JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, meaning they can easily be deployed in an existing website infrastructure.

Dramatically increase the value you drive from your Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution and achieve your organization’s goals with a customer-centric web portal.

By Matt Bitzegaio, Summit Group Software